They say in space, no one can hear you scream. After letting out a screech loud enough to burst the eardrums of all life in the cosmos, my time aboard starship Ishimura proves this unassailable scientific adage untrue. Dead Space is a bone-chilling journey into the heart of horror. Its nerve-shattering suspense and stomach-churning gore are perfectly orchestrated to play off of your fear and paranoia.
Grotesque humanoid mutations leap from the shadows, diseased corpses reanimate as you approach, and you never know when a tentacle is going to crash through a wall and grab you. Incredible lighting techniques, suffocating level designs, and haunting ambience effectively blend to create one of video games' most immersive and frightening atmospheres. As much as Dead Space makes you jump out of your seat and scream at the top of your lungs, its gameplay makes you respect it as a great game first and foremost.
In the introductory cutscene, we learn the Ishimura, a mining vessel equipped with tools powerful enough to crack planets from orbit, is malfunctioning. Like all science fiction movies, this ship's communications are offline, so a team containing your character, engineer Isaac Clarke, is sent in to investigate. When a particularly gory sequence occurs within minutes of boarding, it becomes apparent that an alien scourge has infested the ship, and more disturbingly, its crew. In the commotion, you are separated from your teammates. As predictable as this lead in is, it effectively sets the tone. The remainder of the game is a journey of discovery and survival through the bowels of this derelict ship.
As you investigate each section of the ship, the gameplay boils down to a study in precision targeting, relying heavily on the player's ability to pinpoint specific limbs on enemies. As it turns out, bullets don't kill. Dismemberment is the only way to stop these abominations in their tracks. The enemies are aggressive and plentiful in variety, but the rock-solid targeting system can handle any threat. Most of the weapons (which are primarily mining tools) produce large spray zones, and their rounds easily tear limbs from torsos. Custom weapon assembly allows players to tailor the firearm functionality to their style of play. Do you increase the damage of a particular gun and go for one hit-kills? Or is your style more suited to expanding ammo capacity and wildly clicking the trigger until the creature ceases to move? Finishing off injured foes is particularly easy, as Dead Space is home to one of the most brutal boot stomps in all of gaming. Your heel is basically a B.F.G. As a whole, the combat is beautifully executed, and loaded with unforgettable encounters.
As the story unfolds, you'll trek across nearly every inch of the Ishimura. Along the way there are some amazing sights to behold. This game is gorgeous, and it wouldn't surprise me if this ship is modeled to be fully functional. The interface is also stunning and unlike anything else out there. To keep your eyes on the action, the HUD is practically invisible. Most meters and directions are handled within the game environment. For instance, Isaac's health meter is displayed on his back. Some story sequences are also told through holographic projections. Should you chose, you can keep playing as the video plays. If you get lost, there's no need to visit a map. Just click a button and a holographic trail illustrates the path to the next objective.
Some objectives feature breakout moments, such as an awesome space walk on the ship exterior or a poorly executed asteroid shooting gallery in the gunner's chair. Most objectives, however, are fairly uneventful. Hitting a button to watch an animation of the ship's systems come online is all too common of an event. In this regard, the game plays off of your character's engineering background a little too much. Thankfully, as mundane as most of the missions are, they all fall back on the excellent gameplay and taut atmosphere.
Dead Space is technically a survival horror game, but it should really be compared to motion picture juggernauts The Thing and Aliens, as it channels the essence of those films more than it does any other game. If horror is your forte, dim the lights, crank up the surround sound, and take the deepest breath you ever have. I think you'll agree, no game has ever been this frightening.